Posted by: jonathanhanegan | October 12, 2008

The Emergence of Emergent Literature

C.S. Lewis writes about the value of reading “old books.” He writes that many times we tend to only dialogue with our contemporaries, leaving aside literature that has been “tested against the body of Christian thought down the ages.” Nevertheless, he encourages “ordinary reader” to read “modern books” because they also have great value.

If you are reading this blog, you are most likely aware of the emergence of Christian literature that focuses on rescuing a skewed paradigm of the church today. I am grateful for this great “awakening” among many church leaders. However, I am a strong believer that many of the concepts that the “Emergent” Movement espouses are not new concepts. In fact, I believe that there has always been a current within Christianity that has not forgotten or misunderstood God’s mission for the church. I am especially convinced that within our brotherhood, the passion and commitment to God’s mission has not been totally lost.

(If you are discouraged about the North American churches’ involvement in missions, check out the Harding Missions Faculty’s presentation “Around the World in 60 Minutes” from the 2008 Harding Lectureship. You might be surprised!

I hope only to cite a few well-recognized authors who have eloquently communicated the basic tenants of the Missional Movement before the word “missional” was in vogue.

Post-Christendom Views of Church and Culture – Christ & Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr (1951); The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer (1968); Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon (1989). 

  • Authenticity – True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer (1972); the majority of the writings of Henri Nouwen point to this end (1932-96); Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster (1978).
  • Communitarian Ecclesiology – also known as “mutual ministry,” once again in Henri Nouwen In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (1993).
  • Incarnational Ministry – This is a term that has been used by missiologists for some time. I first ran across this term in Ministering Cross Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Ligenfelter and Mayers (1986) that I have also seen referenced, though possibly with different terminology in different works of Henri Nouwen, especially The Wounded Healer (1979).

Because of time constraints, I am unable to properly cite other authors that have similar views. Nonetheless, many who have not only written on these things but have successfully lived them out are the missionary pioneers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Read William Carey, Jim Elliot or Hudson Taylor and ask yourself if they were missional.

So, is the “Missional” or the “Emergent Church Movement” a new movement or just a “clarification” or quite possibly a “restoration” to the way things ought to be? May we always base our theology (understanding of God) and our ecclesiology (our understanding of the body of Christ) on God’s Word. And if we draw upon others to help us better understand God’s mission as is revealed in the Bible, let us as C.S. Lewis recommended, for every modern book we read, let us read two old books that have been tried and tested by the Christian church. 



  1. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis. I had read it just earlier today.

    Does anyone have some suggestions about some “old books” that might be relevant to helping us become more missional?

    Here were the couple that I thought of….

    The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
    Miscellaneous Writings by Ludolf of Saxony
    On Loving God by Bernard of Clairvaux

    (I believe you can get the full text of all of these for free and a ton of other Church Fathers and other writings at

  2. *Pia Desideria* by Philip Jacob Spener — maybe the beginning of the “small groups movement” in churches.

  3. That is great advice. I will say though that I have appreciated much of the content in books I have read lately, primarily books from the last 10 years, is full of information from primary sources of the early church. That is one of the things I appreciate about the emergent church movement is that it is a restoration movement of sorts.

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